June 7th, 2014 §
Last week I took the first hike of summer with a visiting friend and Tuck. We did about 9 miles straight up the Blue Ridge from Sugar Hollow to the Blue Ridge Parkway and back down.
Of all the mountains I’ve lived near and climbed, all across this country, there is something so comforting about the Blue Ridge. Probably that feeling comes from growing up here, from these being my “native” mountains. The hike we took last week began as one I used to take with high school friends, up past a swimming hole where we’d go to cool off in the summer. I think there is something very sweet and wonderful about walking, as a 34-year-old, the same trails I walked at 17—only this time with a friend made when I was 24 and the dog I never dreamed of having as a teenager.
Up near the ridgeline it was still spring, and the wild azaleas were fragrantly blooming.
The mountain laurel, with its buds that remind me of just-exploded fireworks, had yet to flower.
I was delighted to see several thriving clumps of pink lady slippers. These native orchids take many years to go from seed to blooming maturity, and can live to be twenty or more years old. These couldn’t have been more perfect specimens.
We traversed a lot of good creek and river crossings…
…which made me glad of my choice to hike in sandals, despite our dirty paws!
June 6th, 2014 §
June 5th, 2014 §
It’s finally time for one of my favorite gardening days of the year: redoing the front porch containers. Each spring, after the winter’s pansies poop out from rising temperatures, I get the instant gratification of putting together tiny minigardens to be appreciated up close each time I enter the house.
This year my mom and I discovered a fantastic greenhouse, Milmont, over the mountain in Stuarts Draft. Not only did they have varieties of plants that have been on my wish list for ages, and that I’d resigned myself to having to mail-order, they also had a thriving colony of purple martins living right near their greenhouses. Awesome, rare birds + spectacular, rare plants = pretty much my idea of heaven.
I came home with all the material for this summer’s container gardens and broke down the old arrangements, composting the spent pansies and then refreshing the pots with new soil and granular fertilizer. Then I got down to designing.
This year I wanted high-contrast color, dramatic leaf form, and to play around with some black foliage. To that end, the centerpiece of each container is a black Colocasia ‘Ilustris,’ and that tone is picked up again in black sweet potato vine, ‘Illusion Midnight Lace,’ which will spill over the edges. I always like to add rusty red-pink colors, because they are my favorite and tie into the color of my front door. For that I used Coleus ‘Colorblaze Keystone Kopper.’ I was really drawn to the icy, otherworldly green of Helichrysum petiolare ‘Lemon Licorice,’ to contrast with the black and brighten everything up. For color, I popped in a dwarf Gaura ‘Karalee Petite Pink,’ as well as Calibrachoa ‘Minifamous Double Magenta,’ which has bright pink flowers that look like tiny roses. And for a ringer, I added a shot of pure, bright blue with Evolvulus ‘Blue My Mind.’
The key to good containers, in addition to following the “thriller, spiller, filler” formula, is to stuff in way more plants than you think could fit. Yes, containers planted this fully require more attention with watering and feeding, but you get an instant, lush look. I already know that some of these plant will, if they’re happy, grow too large for these containers, so throughout the summer I will need to keep them trimmed and shaped up to continue looking nice. Not a hard task, and the added bonus is I can root the trimmings and make more plants!
The front porch, all dressed up for summer: the large evergreens below are some form of Chamaecyparis, which I’ve had for more than two years. They are very slow-growing and do okay in pots as long as they don’t dry out, but eventually they will need to be planted out in the yard. I refreshed their soil last year. The plant in the smallest pot is Sedum ‘October Daphne,’ which I cut back each winter for fresh regrowth.
And a purple martin parting shot:
June 4th, 2014 §
Some families spend their leisure time together relaxing on the beach or meandering across the golf course. In my family, group recreation is most often in the form of a construction or clean-up project, soundtracked not by lapping waves or the shout of “Fore!,” but by the loud rumble of a diesel engine.
This past weekend my parents helped cross off one of my most anticipated Bonafide Farm tasks. And all it took was two long trailers, a small tractor, a big excavator, a dualie pick-up, half a dozen chains and winches, and a couple ropes. With all that equipment and three people, I finally got rid of this:
Hidden within that grassy mess is a 1950s David Bradley hay rake, which when I bought the farm was stashed along the woodline, covered in vines and honeysuckle. One of my closest encouters with it was during my first summer at the farm, when I was crawling around in the woods trying to retrieve errant guineas, and I looked up to see a massive snake stretched out along the warm metal, sunning itself. After that I stayed far away.
Two winters ago, when my friend Steve and my dad and I cleared the woodline of invasive trees and brambles and ripped out the old pasture fence, we dragged the hay rake out of the woods and dropped it in the field. Where it sat, all last spring, summer, fall, winter, and spring again. I posted it to CraigsList, but unfortunately it was in such poor shape—totally rusted through in spots—that I didn’t get any takers. I hated mowing around it, and hated how it looked like a big piece of rusted junk in the middle of my otherwise well-kept field. Which, it was, arty sunset shots notwithstanding.
Well finally last Saturday night my dad hooked the green tractor to the hay rake and took it for its final ride across these fields. Of course, the rubber tires were rotted off so it was more of a drag than a ride.
Then Dad staged up an empty trailer and returned the next morning with Mom and the excavator.
It took a few tries to get all the chains positioned so that the rake would balance when lifted in the air, but eventually Dad got the perfect pick. Then Mom and I got on ropes on either side of the rake to direct it as Dad lowered it on the bed of the trailer. We got it set down just perfectly within the confines of the eight-foot trailer bed.
Then Dad chained it down and drove the whole rig off the farm to the recycling center. I was ecstatic to see it go—I had wanted this off the property ever since I bought this place five years ago!
With every bit of clean-up we do, we’re reclaiming this piece of land which, though incredibly beautiful, was neglected and in some ways abused before I got here. Putting all this positive work, energy and intention into this property is nurturing it so that it can, in turn, take care of me. And I couldn’t do it without my awesome parents, so thank you both for all you do to help. There are no two people in the world who I’d rather stand around with and breathe diesel fumes.